Quote Of The Day: Imperial Presidency Edition

Gene Healy from his new book, The Cult Of The Presidency:

The chief executive of the United States is no longer a mere constitutional officer charged with faithful execution of the laws. He is a soul nourisher, a hope giver, a living American talisman against hurricanes, terrorism, economic downturns, and spiritual malaise. He—or she—is the one who answers the phone at 3 a.m. to keep our children safe from harm. The modern president is America’s shrink, a social worker, our very own national talk show host. He’s also the Supreme Warlord of the Earth.

This messianic campaign rhetoric merely reflects what the office has evolved into after decades of public clamoring. The vision of the president as national guardian and spiritual redeemer is so ubiquitous it goes virtually unnoticed. Americans, left, right, and other, think of the “commander in chief” as a superhero, responsible for swooping to the rescue when danger strikes. And with great responsibility comes great power.

It’s difficult for 21st-century Americans to imagine things any other way. The United States appears stuck with an imperial presidency, an office that concentrates enormous power in the hands of whichever professional politician manages to claw his way to the top. Americans appear deeply ambivalent about the results, alternately cursing the king and pining for Camelot. But executive power will continue to grow, and threats to civil liberties increase, until citizens reconsider the incentives we have given to a post that started out so humble.

As Healy notes, it wasn’t supposed to be this way and we’ve only got ourselves to blame for the way things have turned out.

  • Ben

    Have you read much of the book Doug? Do you recommend it to fellow libertarians and those interested in American history?

  • http://www.belowthebeltway.com Doug Mataconis


    My copy of the book is on it’s way from Amazon, but I did read the Reason excerpt and it seems really good.

    I’ve also read other things Healy has written and I like those.

  • http://www.no-treason.com Joshua Holmes

    we’ve only got ourselves to blame for the way things have turned out.

    I’m pretty sure I don’t share any blame.